Where we belong
“Valentine, what’s death like?”
He gestures at all, his large hand gliding through the liquid heat, heavily floating in the cigarette choked air. I nod, taking the ugly silence of the empty stage.
In the cabaret, that’s death; wood swollen and cracked, curtains moll-eaten and reeking of thousand perfumes, wine stains looking like blood stains, dirty glasses hanging loosely, each sip bringing the taste of ten others, bringing the taste of a forgotten era. Each night a different tune, and now silence.
‘Where are the dancers?’
‘Ain’t working tonight. Ain’t notin’ workin’ tonight.’
His voice lingers, contrabass playing solo in the quietness; I listen holding drum sticks in sweaty palms, looking at them with hazy eyes thinking I don’t remember how to play. I roll them down the counter, watching them fall.
Valentine moves like a shadow beside me; a tall, slim curator in the gallery of death, a crooked spider, with a top hat and mourners eyes sometimes black, sometimes with no distinguishable color. Just deep and wet. He dusts a record, flipping the vinyl with his long fingers. Then the needle touches the black surface, and his song drags a nostalgic voice, a melancholic sax play, sex talk, long lost, love lost.
He puffs out a cloud of smoke. I stretch my hand wanting his poison filling my lungs too.
The song goes on forever. I stopped hearing the lyrics long ago. I’ve aged too. But here sits Valentine, humming, a word rolling out of his parched lips here and there. He knows it all too well.
My body aches. I am tired, and this timeless life bears no mercy for me.
“Valentine, can you take me home?”
He doesn’t talk. He slips out the keys from his pocket and draws skeleton fingers through tick, curly hair. He and I are both tired.
I turn around glaring at the spinning record. As Valentine clicks the door open the needle pops up, giving way to the grim silence.
We walk outside, away from the stillness, and a cold wave of air brushes my face. I shiver. Dusk has fallen.
I don’t remember it ever being day. This night is so full of dark I can’t believe it turning light.
Even outside the bar the world seems dead itself. People visible indoors, the café across full, no one bothering to look beyond the glass walls. Not a single couple occupying the charming light spot beneath the old-fashioned laps aligned up and down the street.
“D’ya fancy another fag?”
Valentine’s voice breaks about, spinning me on heels towards him. How does he seem so out of it all? Calm, casual. I shake my head and pick another poisonous dose, allowing him to light it for me. Then I follow him down the road.
Around the corner is a dim curtain, fog crawling about the street, what is beyond it, invisible. I pause and watch as Valentine’s tall and slim figure dives inside. Not wanting to be left behind I stride faster, catching his shadow inside the whiteness.
I think myself lost. This is not the road home. The more we pace together in the late night, the more I realize it is just us two outside. Alone. Or not existing at all.
“Valentine, where are we going?”
“Home. Twas what you wanted, nay?”
He looks at me then, his eyes black marbles, long, untamable curls swinging before his white face.
I want to run away from that stare.
“I don’t remember where that was.” My voice suddenly trembles and I can see him catch up that tremble in his eyes and blow it to dust, reassuring me of my own mind and my memory.
“Sure you do.”
Then I speak again.
“I remember different street names, those that are no longer here. I remember how the buildings were built and when this street was paved. I remember when there was a Yantsy Brothers there on the corner, and I remember when Clermont’s was on fire and the women burned to death. I can see them, all of them, inside their world, but can they see me, Valentine? Can they see us?”
He shakes his head, his gaze fixed on me.
How could’ve I forget? Valentine was eternal that much I’ve always known, but…
“Valentine, did you know you were dead? Because I think I am.” The words slip out of my mouth.
Valentine slowly nods.
“Twas a good run wiv ya, but we both got to go, you mostly, I to follow. It’s over there, down the road, you know, where the streets cross each other.”
He offers me his hand and I take it, his cold fingers tangling firmly into mine, and he leads me onwards, downwards, to the end. Now I remember.
What is there to question anymore?
There goes Valentine, a man I’ve known all my time around these parts, where my transparent self, operated against the rules of the mortal world, against the rules of the outer one. I wouldn’t want anyone else to take me to my final rest, but Valentine.
Now the fog clears, I can clearly see the illusionary plaza. The buildings around it smell of ashes, and seem worn out, somehow gloom in color. A white fire burns in the middle, erupting from the crooked pavement.
Valentine tells me to walk cautiously. There are eyes upon us, older than Valentine. They hover, invisible, but there, making sure I walk the flames, and Valentine follows.
“Valentine, I’m scared.”
My sudden weakness and my voice aloud brings four hooded figures.
“You must go now. There is nothing to fear ahead. I’ll be closely behind.”
I look at my patron, then at the dark spectators. Have I any right to damn us both?
The flames soak through my skin and as they fill me, the watchers draw nearer. I try to shout them off, but I have no voice.
I begin to fade. Within the brightness I can’t see…did Valentine follow me?